Tuesday, August 21, 2012

If you can read this, then…What would you do?

Here’s the thing. We bought our house 9 years ago. Before we bought it, no one had lived in it for 7 years. The man who had lived there before us was an alcoholic. He died there from drinking (he was relatively young) and was discovered by my nosey next-door neighbors, dead on the basement stairs.
When we came to view the house with the real estate agent, she had to get the keys from the nosey next door neighbors, Mr and Mrs S. These neighbors are in their 70’s and have children in their 50’s. They accompanied us uninvited on the tour of the house and land. They seemed genuinely pleased when we bought our house and said they were glad to have some life back in the place. They seemed a bit up in our business (accompanying all work crews uninvited), but we figured nosey neighbors were better than indifferent ones.
Mr and Mrs S. had been using our land and had been keeping their chickens in our chicken coop for years before we bought the place and were none too pleased to have to evacuate their chickens. I understood them because chickens stink and they didn’t want to mess up their lovely yard. But what’s mine is mine so…the chickens remained(???). I even joked that chickens in my yard were in danger of finding their way into my Sunday rosół. The chickens still remained. Eventually we had to tear down the chicken coop to facilitate the chickens’ exit. Mrs S. was happy to take all the wood from the tear-down, so no hard feelings, I guess.
Mrs S. and I have nothing in common, let’s face it, but we used to have nice chats over the fence. She’s very opinionated as older village ladies (of any nationality) can be, but my power to ignore her comments (pretending I didn’t understand) was always strong. C’mon we have to find a way to get along with our closest neighbors despite our differences. It just takes a bit of goodwill on both sides (or a lot of goodwill on one side). There was so much goodwill between us that we even have a door in the fence between our properties. We don’t use it. Ok we used it once, invited, and the neighbor’s dog promptly bit Misiu on the leg.
9 years ago, before we had done any work on our house and before the house was livable (in my opinion livable, somebody had lived there without water or electricity) Mrs S. asked if she could collect stinging nettle from our neglected garden for her chickens. We agreed then. Our house and garden are now maintained. There’s no stinging nettle, hence no need to enter our garden. Oh, except for the pears. The pears which hang over into our garden with the rotten pears I have to clean up each year. The good pears mysteriously disappear from the overhanging branches each and every year. Once we even met our neighbor and their children in our garden removing the pears. They gave us a tepid dzien dobry, did not speak to us, treated us as intruders, did not high tail it out of our garden and did not even offer us a pear.
So after a recent hubbub on our street in which we were told by the neighbor that we should go back to where ever it is we are from and that we have no right to an opinion because we have only owned our house for a year (we’ve owned it for 9 years and lived in it for the last 5), we were prepared for a pear fight this season. There’ll be no pear fight, of course, as the pears have been cleaned out in our absence.
So here’s the thing. I don’t care about the pears. But since then I have been made aware that this neighbor enters my garden on a regular basis. I have photos. The suspicious fartuch is clearly visible. I even have photos of Mrs S. standing in my yard, leaning on my fence, talking to another neighbor. The pictures are from many different days we know not only from the date but from the rotation of fartuchy. The person who took the pictures says that my neighbor does no harm and they cannot in fact figure out why she enters our garden in the first place. It is not to check that everything is ok. We have not spoken for months since we were so rudely treated by her and her children. (The rude incident while not initially involving us took place on our land and involved the police)
And now I am wondering how to address this issue. It would be difficult for me to lock all entrances to my garden. And the real issue is, I don’t just want to say, “Hey, I know you come to my garden when I am not here. Please stop.” because honestly, where is the fun in that? I thought about writing a sign and leaving in the yard that says, “Mrs, S, if you or your son or daughter can read this, then spier…” but I think that’s too aggressive especially considering her age. What should I do?


Malgosia said...

That's a bummer'. I envy you…. How can you live in Poland???? I lived there for 22 years and moved to the USA 15 years ago. There is no way I could deal with the Polish mentality again. I wish you luck with this situation, it won’t be easy.

Malgosia said...

BTW, like you blog...

Zuzanka said...

First of all, I really envy you the patience, I would definitely start shouting a few years back.

"Spier*" on the board made me laugh, but the problem is serious. Locks on the gates when leaving home and maybe some display of prints with nice fartuchs in your yard?

czarownica said...

Be polite, but be consequent - thats the key to success.
A nice sign/banner over entrance/s "This is my property, stay away".

Or get a dog, even not too big one, but barking loudly and biting on ankles.

Olivia D {The Road to Poland} said...

Hmmm, this is a rough one. In America there would have been a lawsuit by now and then a counter lawsuit and then both of you would have to move out while the lawsuit was settled. (I'm only 50% joking).

Trim the branches that hang over the fence and plant a garden or something underneath letting her know that you needed the sun and the tree was shading it too much. Plant a new pear tree on the other side of the yard. (too passive aggressive?) You can legally trim the branches since they're on your property. Or, martin says, plant a quick growing pine tree, or even a whole fence of them and it will choke out the pear tree and create a blockade soon enough (as well as sending a clear message).

I like the idea of 8x10 photos of her in her apron in your yard on the outside of the fence with a big 'ol lock... comically big, or maybe even one that lets off a siren when she touches it...do they have those?

Olivia D {The Road to Poland} said...

Or you could move to a bigger city where the neighbors are all regular like. You know, lending you money when you need it and offering you fresh baked goods when they have them, but otherwise keeping to themselves. ;)

Hanna said...

You must be a Saint since you haven't done anything about it yet. :))

What about printing those photographs out and sticking them in various points in your garden, maybe the same ones in which the known fartuch was photographed? Also a light with a movement detector and something that looks like a CCTV camera (but costs a fraction of it price, just a shell, from a scrap yard perhaps) would be a great way to send a message: "You're being watched". :)

Good luck with that. :)

Prezentuje Prezenty said...

Alike Czarownica, I also thought of a dog first, but then had a better idea. You should set up a trap! Prefarably one that she could not get out of even with the help of her children! And if push comes to shove, and you need someone to write her a nasty legal letter let me know, I might know some people willing to do it just for the kick of it ;)

fiona_apple said...

Oh, my... :))) And no, I don't think it is a Polish thing. I am sure such people can be found in each and every country.
If you spoke to each other, I would suggest sharing a story of A FRIEND OF YOURS who happens to have a house with a beautiful garden and, lets's say, an apple tree. A FRIEND who has a nosy neighbour coming in the beautiful garden and picking up the apples when THE FRIEND herself is not around. You know what I mean, right? ;)But since you are not on a speaking basis, I'd say a huge padlock (I mean HUUUGE!) and a TEREN PRYWATNY sign.

fiona_apple said...

Oh, forgot to mention that you absolutely need to ask the kind photographer to take pics of the neighbour's first reaction to the new reality.

futrzak said...

A dog is a good idea. It does not need to be ferocious or anything like that - just respectfull, preferably a big one, so every time your sąsiadka comes close, dog barks and does not let her in.

In this case it makes perfect sense that you secure all gates to your property - OF COURSE to prevent any unnice situations with your dog. You know, the dog is a gift from your beloved (put the right name here)... and... oh, I am sorry, bur he's very territorial and protective.
So no problem, you can visit my garden/backyard any time but please let me know earlier, so I can do something with my dog in order for you to be safe :))))

--- this worked for my friends in similar situation.

kubala said...

First of all - you need to know your enemy. You absolutely have to read Fredro's "Zemsta", Mickiewicz's "Pan Tadeusz" and (koniecznie!) watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2sedTLIRWU

Knowing what king of psychopath your neighbor is you can watch "Sami Swoi" for inspiration how to fight (bit outdated movie - it may be hard to get grenades these days...).

Now, if you're already a real Pole, you should sacrifice delicious pears and cut that three (and then burn it - only when the wind blows in your neighbor direction so all the smoke goes into their house). I know, I know - this is a high price - but c'mon - seeing your neighbor being 'wkurwiony na maksa' is a must when you live in Poland.

Chris said...

Małgosia - If only I could be paid for my understanding of the Polish mentality... And that's the issue. It's not really an intrusion for my neighbor to make herself at home on my property when I'm not there. It's the mentality that allows her to think that she can do it. That's the problem. I'm glad you like my blog :)

Zuzanka - It's a really a combination of Zen-like patience mixed with my reigning philosophy of "mam wszystko w dupie" which has allowed me to ignore this issue for so long.

czar - I consistently mam wszystko w dupie, so therein lies part of the problem. And to everyone who suggests a dog or 2, that's out because I don't live there every day and I assume that dogs, like children, would have to be fed regularly. Perhaps I could practice some target shooting Sunday morning?

Chris said...

Olivia - It's been our intention for years to trim this tree and all the other ones hanging over the fence but we just have never got around to it...until this weekend. They aren't really disturbing our use of our land (but we can pretend that they do)because A: we have a lot of land and B: our ambitious land-use projects exist so far only in our heads. We have our own orchard so it really isn't about the pears. I also have the pleasure of sharing my life with my city neighbor's as well. I especially love my next door city neighbors (who are moving out, yeah!) who flick their lit cigarette butts at our open window. Lovely.

Chris said...

Hanna - We were thinking of the same thing. I even thought we could explain that pictures we have are from our very well concealed camera.

P.Prezenty - I will keep your offer in mind and perhaps take you up on it in the future. Thank you :)

Fiona - We saw such a huge padlock (I mean enormous) when we bought locks for our barn. Those locks would be worth it even for the comedic element of seeing her response. I envision youtube viral hit.

futrzak- The dog idea is out but perhaps some signs that indicate the owner has a gun. I'm just kidding. That was my father's idea. I'm not kidding.

Kubala - It would be difficult to cut down their tree and I think I would culprit number 1 on their list of suspects, but we plan to trim it back hard from our side. I am studying up all materials you have provided. Interestingly enough Mrs S. had a very long dispute (30 years) with the neighbor from the other side concerning the fence. It was resolved or just forgiven last year when the local priest asked the ladies to reconcile.

futrzak said...


ops.... you do not live there permanently.. THAT is a problem and a dog yeah cannot be solution here :(

Hm...hm... signs would not do too much but there is one thing which is legal however not nice... you could install inside your part of fence so called "elektryczny pastuch" - wires which are electrified and usually used as a fence for keep animals inside (horses, goats, cows etc.) Add to that signs "private property keep away".

She may get angry though and destroy something as a revenge....

M said...

oh, my!
I would definitly keep the garden gates locked( with nice, big padlocks). And the pears - she picks them from both sides - I mean the branches that hang over her yard?And she comes in and picks yours? I would not mind her picking from the ones that hang over her yard.

Anonymous said...

I lived for a few years, after the university, in a shared apartment. I fully agree with J.P. Sartre, “Hell is other people”.

I would start by finding on YouTube old songs by Grzeskowiak, “To je moje” (bo niewazne czyje co je wazne to je co je moje) and “Chlop zywemu nie przepusci”. This is the reality are dealing with.

I would not worry about picking the rotten fruit from the ground and composting it, I do it happily here, in suburban Canada. But then again, my neighbours take care of my mail while we are away, and we have excellent relations. (They’ve never offered to clean my lawn.)

Can you afford a new fence? Or at least part of the fence to remove the gate permanently?

Do you know any people in the village? Have you complained loudly to them about it, letting everybody know how pissed off you are and asking for locals’ advice? Do you buy local, talk to ekspedientki? These ladies will spread your message immediately. Asking, for example, Do you know somebody here I could ask to trim the branches? (it would be better to hire a local guy to do it for you) or Do you think I could talk to ksiadz proboszcz to intervene in this conflict? Just keep talking. And if the neighbours react, offer them, say, 250zl (I do not know what would be reasonable, maybe talk the offer over with ekspedientki?) for trimming the branches? To compensate them for “their loss?”

Bo niewazne czyje co je, wazne to je co je moje.

I like your blog a lot and sometimes comment uninvited. Sorry for not being any help, just wanted to empathize.

robin153 said...

Hmmmm. I live in Maryland, and had a similar neighbor which was not of Polish nationality ( she was actually a German emigrant) but was equally difficult and very controlling. I tried to befriend her, invited her to spend Thanksgiving with us (she was lonely) but it only encouraged her quite demanding participation ion our lives. Eventually she moved out and I adore, absolutely adore our new neighbors. Folks in Poland do not move out too often - I personally would manage this relationship carefully - may be easier than managing full-blown conflict. I like the idea of a dog - boxers are great with kids but have the scary looks:)

Chris said...

Anon- I have started the strategy of complaining to everybody. I couldn't address the neighbor directly because they escaped inside every time we came outside.

robin - I agree that managing this situation is the best idea. They have lived there forever and will most likely live there til the end of their lives.

will keep you updated :)
comment are welcome, invited and uninvited ;)

Slawekk said...

I don't like it when everybody has the same opinion so I will take a different view.
I think the problem is related to one feature of Polish culture, or, as some prefer to call it, mentality: the space is by default open. If you want to close it, you have to make it physically difficult to enter. That's why backyards are fenced in Poland. And I have to say I like it that way. Some half a mile from my house (in Poland) there is a forest and fields and fallows. The forest is probably state owned, but fields are private property. My dog enjoys running there off the path and I assume the owner of the fields doesn't mind. Why do I assume that? Because if he did mind, he would have fenced them off. Yes, it's Polish mentality and I have it.
So, my advice on how to deal with the neighbor: make it harder to enter you property. Lock the gate.
If she breaks in it's a good reason to report it to the police.

Chris said...

Slawekk - As you know, I come from the opposite mentality but I live here so I have to adjust. Now I am weighing the effort of locking everything up vs. the annoyance of Mrs S. So far, it is a dead-heat.

Chris said...

PS Have I already written about the situation I had with the previous owner of our house? I can't remember. Mrs S. was a witness to how we feel about private property which makes her behaviour even more unusual.